This makes three different agencies where key personnel had data related to January 6 inexplicably wiped from their phones without it being preserved first. The most alarming violations involve the Secret Service, where texts from numerous agents were deleted last year and an investigation by the inspector general of DHS appears to have devolved at some point into an out-and-out cover-up of that fact. Texts to and from acting Trump DHS chief Chad Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, also disappeared after the two men turned in their phones to the department upon leaving government.
This afternoon CNN is reporting that it happened at the Defense Department too. The electronic communications of three key figures involved on January 6 in the military response to the Capitol are now apparently gone.
I can just about believe that three separate agencies of the federal government would be so incompetent that they’d absentmindedly wipe the phones of major officials despite federal records laws to the contrary, but the more examples of this there are, the more deliberate it appears.
Last week cybersecurity consultant Paul Rosenzweig said he was flabbergasted that the Secret Service in particular had lost the communications of its employees. “This was the most singularly stressful day for the Secret Service since the attempted assassination of [Ronald] Reagan,” he told WaPo. “Why apparently was there no interest in preserving records for the purposes of doing an after-action review? It’s like we have a 9/11 attack and air traffic control wipes its records.” He asked 11 different friends who work in cybersecurity if they’d ever done a data migration without a plan for backing up and restoring lost data and went 0 for 11. “There’s a relatively high degree of skepticism about [the Secret Service] in the group,” he added.
If there’s any agency one might expect to keep scrupulous records, it’s a military bureaucracy. Not in this case, says CNN:
The Defense Department wiped the phones of top departing DOD and Army officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting any texts from key witnesses to events surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, according to court filings.
The acknowledgment that the phones from the Pentagon officials had been wiped was first revealed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit American Oversight brought against the Defense Department and the Army. The watchdog group is seeking January 6 records from former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, former chief of staff Kash Patel, and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, among other prominent Pentagon officials — having filed initial FOIA requests just a few days after the Capitol attack.
It’s unclear if Miller, Patel, and McCarthy deleted their texts themselves or if they handed over their phones “fully loaded,” as Wolf claims to have done, and then the department itself wiped the devices. But all three are key witnesses; Miller and Patel, a top Trump crony, might very well have been communicating with the president himself that day.
There’s no evidence in any of these cases that Trump or any other high official gave formal orders to start destroying evidence. Assuming that it was done deliberately and not as a matter of egregious negligence, it was most likely a case of each agency fearing legal exposure in the aftermath of January 6 for what top personnel there might have done or not done to facilitate a coup attempt. Deleting electronic communications and then pleading “oopsie, innocent mistake” afterward might have been the easiest play.
The Secret Service is a special case, however, not just because so many employees were affected but because the behavior of the inspector general’s office in failing to call Congress’s attention to the deletions in a timely way looks more ridiculous by the day. Yesterday the heads of two key congressional committees sent a letter to the IG, Joseph Cuffari, directly accusing his office of participating in a cover-up of the missing texts.
The IG notified Congress only a few weeks ago that the texts had been wiped despite having known since February of this year, per recent news reports. Now the committee chairs are claiming that Cuffari had reason to know *last year* that texts were missing, more than a year before he shared the information. Worse, the committees have an email from a deputy IG sent in July 2021 informing a liaison at DHS that the office was no longer requesting texts from the Secret Service related to January 6. Why?
A few days ago WaPo reported that in February Cuffari’s team “planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress” — but then canceled the plan and declined to collect the phones. One person who used to work in his office in a senior role told the paper that he was instructed by the IG’s staff earlier this year to order DHS’s top forensic expert to “stand down” instead of moving ahead with trying to recover the missing data. Again, why?
Cuffari sent around an email to his staff yesterday complaining about how unfair the coverage has been. It’s not unfair, a source told Politico:
Amid that tension, Cuffari’s buck-up Monday message met with less than total sympathy. An official in the DHS inspector general’s office told POLITICO that Cuffari and his immediate staff are “uniquely unqualified to lead an Inspector General’s office, and the current negative congressional and media scrutiny bear that out.”
“The crucial oversight mission of the DHS OIG has been compromised,” continued the official, who was granted anonymity because of concerns about further retaliation, “and there will be no course correction as long as Cuffari leads the DHS OIG.”
Cuffari used to work for Doug Ducey before being appointed by Trump to the IG position. He’s clearly lost control of his office given all the leaking lately and his repeated refusal to aggressively pursue the missing texts is proof that he’s incompetent — at best. I don’t understand why Biden hasn’t fired him yet. Is it a legal thing, maybe, believing that Cuffari is more likely to cooperate with Congress’s investigation and less likely to lawyer up so long as he has a job to protect?